Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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10 things that are different about British and Irish politics.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 29, 2012 in British Politics, Irish Politics
It's the little differences...

It’s the little differences…

1. Ideological parties. It is not true to say that there is no ideology in Irish politics, because there is a left-right divide. It’s just not accepted by most parties. As in the UK, you can vote for conservative status quo candidates or trades union friendly candidates, only their parties will deny that those divisions exist. Unlike Labour or the Tories, there is no major party in Ireland that does not claim to speak for every section of society from public sector workers to business.

2. Thanks to the voting system, there is a wider choice of electable candidates in Ireland. This may come as a surprise to Irish voters, but ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw elected MPs on NewsNight holding positions like Richard Boyd Barrett or Joe Higgins?

3. Irish politicians have a much larger personal vote than most British politicians to the extent that not only can they lose their party label, but can actually defeat their old parties in following elections. It is quite rare for British MPs who choose to change party to keep their seats. In Ireland, the majority of TDs do.

4. Irish politicians, like their US and French counterparts, are expected to deliver locally, especially if they become ministers. As minister for urban renewal, Gay Mitchell openly boasted how he had directed large amounts of money to projects in his constituency.

5. British politicians can build a career in parliament, on national issues, something much much less likely to happen to an Irish politician. In fact, it may even cost him his seat. Jim Mitchell, the chair of the Irish Public Accounts Committee (and brother of Gay, coincidentally) lost his seat after chairing a high profile investigation into tax avoidance, due to spending less time in his constituency.

6. There is no such thing as a safe party seat in Ireland. The PRSTV voting system means that Irish voters think nothing of voting for tiny parties, because under STV voters do not waste votes as in British elections. Also, because Irish voters are used to coalitions, a vote for a small party can still be a vote for government.

7. Candidates can very rarely be parachuted into Irish constituencies close to election time, as say, Tony Blair did in Sedgefield in 1983. Most Irish candidates have to spend years building up a personal vote. Irish candidates are much less likely to have come from a “Miliband” professional politics route through special advisor or parliamentary assistant position, although this is beginning to change.

8. Local government and the upper house of parliament, the senate, are the training grounds in Ireland for contesting parliamentary elections. Most TDs have served in one or the other.

9. Unlike in the UK, where MPs rebel over issues like Europe, Irish parliamentary rebellions are almost never over principle but local issues or the concerns of a noisy vested interest. Whereas hardly any Irish TDs rebelled over paying billions to bank bond holders, they did break ranks over dog breeding and the inspection of septic tanks.

10. The Irish political class is much more united in defending its perks than the British one is, with voters far less likely to expel local TDs for cheating on their expenses or being found to be corrupt.

 
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Republican slammed for supporting “theory” of gravity.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 27, 2012 in Not quite serious., US Politics

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, has launched an attack on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie after the potential presidential rival suggested in an interview that he did believe in the concept of gravity.

Speaking to a seminar entitled God Made The Earth, So Obviously The Sun Revolves Around It, Sen. Rubio condemned Gov. Christie for supporting such “European” notions as gravity. “Governor Christie’s support of the theory of gravity is, quite frankly, offensive to many Christians like me. If  the governor spent more time reading scripture he’d realise that people and objects are held fast to this planet by Jesusglue, which is all around us and was created by God. I know of many learned readers of scripture who believe that to be a teaching not ruled out by the Holy Bible, whereas, gravity, like dinosaurs and letting women get all uppity, does not get one mention in the Bible. If God had created gravity, don’t you think he would have mentioned it? 

Next the governor will be saying that God didn’t put handles on bananas or put skin on oranges to reduce packaging costs for small businesses, like they say in France.” 

Earlier this month, Sen. Rubio attracted controversy when he hid in the Senate toilet to avoid voting on a Tea Party bill to strip accreditation from any geologists who claimed the Earth was over 9,000 years old as alleged in the Holy Bible.

The senator had apparently been about to vote in favour of the bill until he received a phone call from the CEO of Exxon Oil telling him to “knock it off”.

 
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How do we break our addiction to public spending?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 25, 2012 in Irish Politics

Whilst watching one of the many protests against spending cuts outside Leinster House recently, I noticed a placard that demanded “Rights not charity”. This slogan fascinated me, because I was very curious as to what the elongated message behind it was: Given that the demonstration was against proposed spending cuts, it is reasonable to assume that it was declaring a right to receive money from the taxpayer. But curiously, it also declared “not charity”.

What did that mean? Could it be (and I’m ready to be corrected) that the protestor demanded a right to other people’s money? Would a more informative (although shockingly long winded) sign have read “I have a greater right to other people’s money than they have to decide what to spend it on”?

Indeed, to understand how a spending issue works in Ireland, you have to understand one key issue. Irish society is divided into people who get stuff from politicians, politicians, and people who pay taxes to politicians. It is of course possible to be a member of all three groups simultaneously (a point Mitt Romney failed to grasp with his 47% comment) but most people tend to view themselves predominantly (and sometimes wrongly) in just one. Where politics is breaking down is that the two non-politician groups have been told for years by politicians that they, separately, would be given priority. Now that we have no money and need to raise taxes just to keep what we have, there’s war, and politicians are getting it from both sides who don’t really give a toss about the other group.

I used to have great sympathy for politicians trying to square the circle of infinite demand versus finite resources, but not anymore. Having seen Fine Gael and Labour lie to voters in 2011, and now watching Fianna Fail trying to sneakily hint that it would reverse cuts in public spending (just look at the stream of spending promise press releases that emerge daily from FF TDs. Please try and tell me they have all been costed by Michael McGrath) the fact is that most politicians deserve every ounce of crap they get from the public over this.

It is their own fault, because our elected leaders are either too dishonest to want to confront the reality, or, and this is the more frightening of the two options, too dumb to realise it. The beating heart at the core of the problem is that taxes must be paid by someone in order to provide services, and that the magical solution, confiscating the wealth from the rich, is no more sustainable than chopping up your furniture to provide firewood.

If our leaders are serious (and that is a question in itself) they need to link taxes and spending in the eyes of the voter, and give the power to raise taxes to fund spending to the voters themselves.

They could start by requiring the property tax be approved at county level by referendum after councillors publish an agreed list of cuts to be made to local services if voters decide not to impose a property tax upon themselves. Such an option would be highly controversial, and the hard left in particular will advocate boycotts. In addition, county councillors will (incredibly) object to their being required to make such decisions. But what such a course of action will do will be to turn the issue into a live issue for voters, with, and this is important, a very clear and decisive democratic outcome. The people will be confronted with reality: pay more for services, or don’t. Their choice, with a pencil in their hands and a ballot paper in front of them.

What if they refuse to vote? What if they say that they are not being given a left wing option of taxing businesses or placing a higher property tax on the wealthy, and putting that to the people of the county. Personally, I’d have no problem if a left wing majority county council decided to make such a proposal, but I doubt it will ever happen, because Irish people hate taxes, and rarely vote for people in favour of them. Why, even our hard left campaign against them.

 
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Huge celebrations in Ireland as no natural resources found!

Posted by Jason O on Nov 22, 2012 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Spontaneous crowds took to the streets across cities and towns in Ireland in delight today as a comprehensive study of the potential of Ireland’s natural resources revealed that there is not a single mineral which could add to the prosperity of the Irish People. 

“This is great news,” Sean Furious, Co-Chair of People Against Everything Including Whatever That Thing Is They Do In Other Countries, announced. “This means now that the fat cats in the oil companies, nuclear companies, wind and solar industries won’t make a shilling in Ireland, and will be forced to invest in other countries. That’ll teach them. This report means that whereas we were only going to get a pitiful 40% of the profit of whatever was extracted in taxes, now we get to keep 100% of nothing, ensuring that every single bit of nothing remains with its rightful owners, the people of Ireland. If there’s anything that shows what sort of stuff the Irish people are made of, it’s that. Go on Ireland!”  

The study itself was controversial, in that when the Department of Energy and Natural Resources announced it, there were large numbers of objections to the study, on the grounds of “children, radiation, my house will fall into a hole and the like. What’s that noise? Can you hear that noise? Did you know Gay Byrne is taping all my phone calls with my mother? She’s 93.” 

The department will now be renamed the Department of Imported Energy, No Arse in Trousers and Self Pity, with special responsibility for All Dem Udder Countries Get All The Luck With Their Money Whilst Poor Old Ireland  Is Left With  Nothing. 

 
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Guest Blog: Dan Sullivan on political accountability.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 21, 2012 in Irish Politics

In a recent* post our host has made the not unreasonable point that those who were elected to the Oireachtas in 2011 make a poor job of publicly holding the executive to account. To deny this would be quite incredulous so I won’t. Truth is that members of the Oireachtas have quite limited powers to hold the executive to account and even those limited powers they do have they rarely make any effective use of. The question is why is this?

While the portrayal in US media of their national politics might erroneously give one to believe that a dog catcher can’t buy a new net or hat without democratic oversight and approval by a Congressional committee; in Ireland little that the executive chooses to do actually requires any input from the Oireachtas. Ministers can act almost by edict provided they have the support of a majority of their cabinet colleagues. Take the provisions of the Croke Park agreement, there hasn’t actually been a vote on the Croke park agreement in the lifetime of the current government so the opportunity doesn’t arise for TDs to either prevent or modify it. *

Hence I would hold that the unfavourably comparison of their unwillingness to stand over their voting record to legislators in the United States is inappropriate. The comparison misses a key factor, that being the explicit separation in the US system between the executive and the legislature. In our system the executive is formed directly from those elected to the legislature. The Dáil elects the Taoiseach and in turn that individual picks the cabinet. While I and many others may think that the system could suffer some significant revision perhaps even involving separate elections of the legislature and the executive or the person selecting it, this is the system that current Oireachtas members have to work in.

We should keep in mind that incredibly gerrymandered electoral districts for the House of Representatives actually serve to increase the level of pandering of special interests and pork barrel politics. While it is not uncommon for certain state agencies to appear to look more favourably on applications from the constituency of the relevant minister it is much rarer that significant sums of public money are deployed at the direct behest of the Oireachtas.

As for the oft criticised whip system, whips exist because all political parties are coalitions of individuals who share the majority (say 70/80%) of political opinions with roughly the same percentage of their party colleagues. These coalitions are rather looser than most would imagine. Yet the remaining areas where people differ aren’t the same across the party. So Eoghan Murphy might share 70% of his positions with Simon Harris and Simon share 70% with Leo Varadkar but that doesn’t mean that Eoghan and Leo share the same 70%. How else could you explain Willie O’Dea and Charlie McCreevy being in the same party for all those years? The pact that the whip system enforces is that all members vote the 70% that they all agree with even if this means voting for 15% of stuff that they don’t believe in their heart in order to get others to vote for the 15% of party policy that they don’t believe dearly believe in but which you do.

Is this a compromise, yes, but it’s a practical mechanism to get things done and it works for the most part. The reason most independents are sole operators is that they can’t agree with anyone else long enough to get anything done on a policy level.

We are prone to forget with our media re-enactments of parliamentary debates of yesteryear whether Wilberforce on slavery or grand set pieces such as moves to war that though the debates were on the record they weren’t being publicly scrutinised in real time. The House of Commons, that mother of parliaments was long a lobby chamber writ large, with side conversations and deal making all over the place. What do you think the alcoves are for, eating your sandwiches? What is a backbencher in truth but a paid lobbyist on behalf of his electorate and party?

Yet I would still love to see party backbenchers in Fine Gael develop in detail the party’s own views on policy. The Labour Minister for Education has his own well formed views about primary school patronage, that the institutional church has too much control with too little mandate but what operational form should replace it: schools under the patronage of the local authority, the VEC or some stand alone PTA arrangement? FG representatives should be able to develop and give voice to their views and those of the party on such a topic. Beyond that we might think of borrowing from the US the notion of cross party caucuses on specific policy areas. Let members of different parties who share common approaches or objectives discuss publicly how those might in the long term be realised.

I will admit to being largely underwhelmed by the depth and execution of the government’s reformist agenda to date though I’d prepared to deliver final judgement after a full Dáil term. For the moment they are on a failing grade and the chances of serious reform may well be lost as the electoral timetable starts to reassert itself next year with the countdown to the local and European elections in 2014.

For all that concern, I’d not be surprised if the government goes tactical giving the people the chance to give the political system a good kicking in time for the 2014 elections, with referendums on abolishing the Seanad and increasing the upper population limit for TDs from 30,000 to 40,000.

Yet these changes aren’t a matter for the members of the legislature alone. The solution to the core the problem with Irish politics is not in the gift of Irish politicians; it remains in the gift of the electorate. So long as we value locality and longevity over originality and expertise, so shall we have Oireachtas members who ask questions but who have few answers.

Dan Sullivan is a member of Fine Gael.

*Ok it’s quite an old post now.

*See search results for Croke Park here. http://www.kildarestreet.com/search/?s=Public+Service+Agreement+2010-2014&p=9

 
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Great books you should read: World War Z

Posted by Jason O on Nov 20, 2012 in Books

Homer blows Flanders away with a shotgun. Lisa: Who would have thought Flanders was a zombie? Homer: Flanders was a zombie?You are probably all aware of the new Brad Pitt movie “World War Z” from the terrifying trailer doing the rounds. It’ll also come as no surprise to many that I have a passing interest in science fiction, something which a lot of political people do. Why is that? Maybe it’s because science fiction and politics are both essentially about finding ideas with which to shape the future? (Shock horror! Fat bloke likes science fiction. Quelle surprise???)

Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of the whole Zombie genre, but am fascinated by the imagining as to how a modern industrial society would deal with things such as an outbreak of a lethal disease, or in this case, a disease which turns your fellow man into a psychotic killing machine.

Max Brooks (Son of Mel.) wrote “World War Z” which is for me the definitive book, outlining in a serious of interviews how the world dealt with a future Zombie outbreak.  It’s chilling because it is so believable, and not just in the terror, but also the stupidity, and how the media, for example, completely fail to inform the public until it is too late, or how the modern military’s super accurate weaponry is completely useless against an enemy with no lines of supply or communication centres to destroy. Indeed, it is actually an Indian general and a South Africa bureaucrat who devise the most effective responses to the crisis.

The book is packed with subtle references to real people, and Brooks has a real filmaker’s eye when ity comes to describing  key events in the book. You’ll never be able to, for example, listen to Roxy Music’s “Avalon” in the same way again.

And yes, Ireland’s fate is described in it.

 
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One last time.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 18, 2012 in Not quite serious., US Politics

 
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Guest Blog: Ciaran Bolger on wearing the poppy.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 17, 2012 in Irish Politics

It has always been frowned upon by Irish Republicans to wear a Red Poppy to remember Irish Citizens that fought in the Great War of 1914-18.

It was common belief by Irish Republicans that wearing a Red Poppy commemorated the British soldiers that inflicted so much misery on our blighted history in Ireland,  and I, as a life-long Irish Republican always stood by that principle.

Recently, however, I questioned this principle and decided to wear a Red Poppy. I wore the Red Poppy not to commemorate any war or any British soldier that played a role in the cruel deeds inflicted on Ireland but rather to remember the thousands of Irish citizens that died on Flanders fields. It is my opinion that for far too long we have held a bigoted view that these Irish citizens were traitors to Ireland’s cause at the time of our struggle for independence.

Those that went to the trenches in Ypres did so for many reasons. Some went because they believed it would lead to Irish Independence as promised by Redmond. Others went in order to feed their families, having had gone through the great lockout of 1913 and left with nothing to feed their loved ones. Then there were many who fought for the right of small nations to be free.

Whatever their reason,it is all fine and easy for us to judge from our comfortable surroundings which could never have been imagined by those who fought in Ypres.

The Poppy is an International symbol of remembrance instigated by an American woman called Monica Micheal who was inspired by the poem “On Flanders fields” by a Canadian lieutenant colonel John McCrae. It is worn by citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zeland, South Africa, France and Belgium to remember their dead and has been a symbol of rememberance since the Napoleonic wars. It it not time that we as Irish Republicans cast aside the fallacy that the Poppy is a British inspired symbol and only represents British Soldiers that died in war?

I am comfortable with my Republicanism and can now cast aside all else and just wear the Red Poppy to remember Irish Citizens that were victims of the time in history in which they lived and the decisions they had to make.

Ciaran Bolger is a member of Fianna Fail.

 

 
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Great TV: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 14, 2012 in Movies/TV/DVDs

I was in New York just before “Studio 60″ debuted in 2006, and it was a big deal. The major US TV networks had gotten into a major bidding war to secure Aaron Sorkin’s new show, based around a late night “Saturday Night Live” comedy show, and when NBC won the rights, they pumped huge money into advertising it, with billboards, magazines and bus stop ads. This was to be the biggest show on TV that season.

It bombed. In fact, it bombed so badly that hardly anybody saw the final few episodes as it’s viewing numbers dropped from 14 million to 4 million, and it was quietly cancelled after 22 episodes.

When I first saw it, I was quite underwhelmed. It had all the Sorkin stuff, and was jammers full of ex-West Wing alumni like Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Timothy Busfield, but overall, it was all a bit, well, “meh”.

Yet, watching it now, having bought it cheap on DVD, I ask myself: would I watch a second season? Surprisingly, the answer is Yes I would. With the benefit of hindsight I think I know what went wrong with the show. Firstly, it came after “The West Wing”, which reinvented political drama. There were huge expectations on this extremely expensive ($3m an episode cost to NBC) to produce show, which could never be met. After all, people discovered “The West Wing”, whereas they were waiting for this.

Secondly, it’s about a subject (effectively SNL) which is revered by comedians, writers and The New Yorker crowd but is just a funny TV show to everybody else. It is hard to make drama out of something that people do not regard as important. It’s like setting a show in the competitive world of show jumping. A big deal to some people, but…

Funnily enough, I could see it working as an HBO show now, especially with it’s angle about the politics of television. Wait, isn’t there a show on HBO about a TV show written by Aaron Sorkin? Oh well.

Give it a go, all the same. Whitford and Perry have genuine onscreen chemistry, and I’d like to see them in something together again. It’s also set during the paranoid days of the Bush administration, before that nice well-spoken young man from Hawaii rescued us all, and you can notice it.

One other thing: it was this show that finally made me try to write stuff professionally, and watching it reminded me of the very first cheque I ever got for writing, and thinking “Really, people are going to pay me for this?” 

 
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Is this the Republican George McGovern moment?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 13, 2012 in US Politics

In 1972 Senator George McGovern (who only passed away last month, God rest him), a decorated World War II bomber pilot, went down to a crushing and humiliating 49 state defeat to Richard Nixon. McGovern’s defeat became legendary political shorthand for what was wrong with the Democratic party, which had become insular and obsessed with the various liberal factions that dominated it. The party went on to just barely win the following election mainly by having its opponents self destruct during the Watergate scandal, and it was not until the Democratic Party returned to the centre in 1992 that the party retook the White House. Even then, it was not until 2008 that a modern Democratic candidate for president actually won over 50% of the vote, last time being LBJ in 1964. In short, the Democratic party had wandered too far from the centre. 

But this is outrageous, say Republicans. Barack Obama a centrist? Nonsense! And that’s my point. Obama-Biden built an ethnically and socially diverse coalition, stretching from businesspeople to union members, from Christians to secular gay liberals, and when conservatives look at that list and announce that it is a collection of radical causes, they’re wrong. That coalition won 50.8% of the votes cast. The coalition is the American people.

Of course, there are some on the liberal side who are saying that the Republicans will never win an election again. This is nonsense. Mitt Romney won 48% of the vote, more than Bill Clinton won in 1992 and by no means a humiliating result. He nearly won. If Moderate Mitt had shown up from day one, and had not pandered to the far right, could he have won? Very possibly. But that Mitt Romney could never have won the nomination in the first place, and so could not have contested the unlosable election of 2012 with unemployment at 7.8%. That Mitt was not allowed show up, in the same way that John McCain, the maverick independent, was not allowed show up in 2008 either.

Instead, the GOP has created an infernal election-losing machine actually designed to scare away moderate voters. Look at Indiana, where six term GOP senator Richard Lugar, a measured conservative, was ousted by GOP voters and replaced with a candidate who wanted to talk about rape in a way that made moderate voters queasy. Look at tomorrow’s John McCain, Chris Christie, and watch as he’s made take positions in direct opposition to his current stances, such as on abortion where he’s a moderate pro-lifer, or gun control where he opposes the right to carry and conceal guns in public. 

As if that isn’t enough, watch and see what happens with immigration. The Obama administration will almost certainly push a new version of the DREAM Act, which will act as the perfect pincher movement on the GOP. The Tea Party will be ready to brand anyone who considers compromise a traitor, and use it in the 2016 primaries. On the other hand, the smarter elements in the GOP like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush will recognise that if the party doesn’t move on immigration, it may, as it did in California, solidify Nevada, New Mexico and Florida in the blue column, and perhaps even put Arizona and long shot Texas into play.

So what’s the GOP to do? Firstly, don’t panic. The party lost by 2% nationally. This isn’t 1964, even if it still would have lost if it had won the popular vote nationally but in the wrong states. America remains a conservative centre-right country and socially conservative, religious and business minded Hispanic voters are still open to being convinced. But the party has to recognise that by neutralising its shrinking but disproportionately influential Old White Angry Guy wing. Perhaps by opening up the primary process more to independent and maybe even Democratic voters? Such a move would, for example, automatically skew the Democratic primaries to the unrepresentative left.

Secondly, the GOP needs to get over its weird hang-ups about sex and homosexuality. There are plenty of moderate voters out there who are uncomfortable about abortion, and would certainly like to see less of it. But getting wild eyed and judgemental about it (and contraception) is just embarrassing them. It’s the same with gay marriage: It seems to surprise Republicans that not every person who supports gay marriage is a New Yorker-reading liberal. Many aren’t even that comfortable with homosexuality, but just believe in minding their own business.

The GOP needs to get back to its small government/mind your own business roots.

Thirdly, the party has to get over its insurgent attitude towards the administration, as indeed does the Democratic Party towards Republicans. Both moderate conservative and liberal voters are fed up with the paralysis, and the first party to talk seriously about compromise has the potential to seize the high ground. Four years of blocking the administration makes Congress just as ineffectual as it does the White House, and feeding into the “illegitimate mandate” rubbish of some on the right is just plain loopy. Someone has got to start governing again, and Republicans have got to stop assuming that Fox News and The Washington Times is the world. It’s not treason to see what the other guy is saying, and occasionally agree with him. Ideological straitjackets, whether against Arlen Specter or Joe Lieberman are just plain nuts. 

In short, many Americans are looking for a return to the days when your party lost and it was good sport, as opposed to an alien occupation. It’s time the GOP played its part. 

Copyright © 2014 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.